TWO FARMERS from the West Bank village of Beit Fourik, Fouad and Fhed, are set to spend a week based in south-east London campaigning to raise awareness of the plight of farming communities under the heavy heel of Israeli military occupation.
The trip is being organised by the South East London Friendship Link with Beit Fourik (SELFLBF) and builds on a previous very successful visit last November by Fouad and visits by south-east London supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to the West Bank and Beit Fourik in particular.
During their visit Fouad and Fhed hope to talk to British farm workers, attend discussion and fund-raising meetings, take part in a nationwide twinning conference and make time for some sightseeing around London. Their SELFLBF hosts have included the British Museum section on Middle Eastern antiquities in their schedule.
Sue Phasey and Pauline Collins, two members of the organising committee spoke to the New Worker about the purpose of the visit: “We are trying to highlight the plight of Palestinian farmers in the West bank under Israeli occupation,” said Sue.
“We have visited Palestine,” said Pauline, “and seen the dire situation that the people face in their day-to-day lives, in their living conditions, their lack of freedom of movement and lack of access to water. And it’s getting worse – it’s much worse now than it was this time last year.”
Sue added: “We want to develop an understanding about the situation and knowledge through linking local communities.”
They went on to speak of Fhed and Fouad, farmers from the village of Beit Fourik near Nablus and building the link between this community and people in south-east London where the issue is not well known.
The restrictions on movement make it very difficult for farmers to get to their land to farm it at critical times. The check points keep people waiting for hours; if a farmer had a lorry load of tomatoes he has just harvested, they can rot while he is held up for hours at a checkpoint in the blazing sun.
A lot of produce gets wasted because farmers cannot water it or harvest it at the right time. This means they are going over to planting only things like wheat that are more resilient to being neglected. In turn this has restricted the diet of the Palestinians to only wheat products and this is taking its toll on their health.
The wall is dividing farmers from their land and the opening times of the gates are not compatible with the needs of the farmers.
The SELFLBF was formed because members believe that international friendship and co-operation is the most effective way of developing peace and justice across the world.
Members have visited Palestine and formed a friendship link with Beit Fourik.
The villagers of Beit Fourik feel isolated and “lost to the world” and the Friendship Link has enabled exchange visits to be made between the two communities which addresses this isolation. Members have also been able to support small scale projects for the young people and women of the village.
They feel it is important for an urban area such as South East London to be linked with an agricultural area as food security and sustainability is important to us all and we can learn from the agricultural practices, organic nature and sustainability of food production in an area such as Beit Fourik.
The village faces a dire situation in relation of the illegal Israeli occupation which denies them freedom of movement due to numerous checkpoints, access to water and constant surveillance.
In spite of this the hospitality that members have enjoyed when visiting them is joyful and they extend the hand of friendship to them when they visit south-east London.
Gate 56, the statement of Omar, a Palestinian farmer from Jayyus in the West Bank, who has lost his land, illustrates the problems faced by the whole population.
He was speaking at a PSC meeting in west London earlier this year and began by explaining issues relating to land and water and how Palestinian farmers are being denied access to their land and their land is being confiscated, olive groves are being burnt and there is Israeli graffiti everywhere.
The Israeli occupying forces invoke laws brought in under the Balfour British Mandate which decree that:
* Government has the right to confiscate land for pipe lines, sewage and new communities.
* If land is full of stones it can be confiscated.
* If land is unsuitable for agriculture it can be confiscated. A lot of the West Bank is mountainous or foothills.
They also invoke laws dating back to the Ottoman Occupation, which say that if farmers do not plant their land for three years their land can be confiscated.
The reality for the Palestinians is that some farming is nomadic herding; weather conditions can delay planting; the Israelis use aerial photos to record planting – and farmers get shot if resist and try to protect their land.
Omar explained how the building of the giant wall by the Israelis on Palestinian land to separate Palestinians from Israel has added further problems. The wall snakes around to include many Israeli settlements on the West Bank, cutting across Palestinian farming land. This breaks some farms in half and often divides farmers’ homes from their fields.
* Farmers now need permits to go through the wall to farm their own land but permits are given only to primary land holders. So at harvest and other busy times they cannot bring family members to help.
* The wall necessitates a 28/26 kilometre walk to our land morning and night to reach gate 25 which allows us through the wall so that we can work our land.
* The Wall is eight metres high with barbed wire and a suicide gap.
* If anyone in the family is killed or arrested the family loses their permit. Everyone has to pay with the loss of livelihood.
* If you belong to Hamas you won’t be able to have a permit.
* Many farmers have to walk if they do not have a donkey or a horse.
* Many farmers are too tired to work their land on reaching Gate 25 which is the access point for Jayyus.
* If they are not able to work land it will be confiscated
* Price for crops are so low that they have to be thrown away/ploughed back in the land.
* Jewish groups have worked with them on this as well as harvesting.
* Checkpoints make it very difficult to get crops to the market in Nablus.
* The pattern of farming changing. Permits mean that the traditional ways for example the extended family are not able to help with agricultural work as they have no permits to access their own land.
* Crops such as peppers, tomatoes and so on not being grown because of their need for a high water content and the Israelis control the water supply and access. Greenhouses are being dismantled and wheat grown, which requires less husbandry.
* Israeli controlled water metres do not supply enough water for personal or agricultural needs.
* Industrial zones being developed and workers will be needed for these.
Omar then explained what he and other West Bank faming families want:
* To be treated as human beings. Stop humiliating us.
* A Palestinian State equal with the Israelis but first a Palestinian State; it will be difficult to have a Palestinian Independent State.
* We need to be together; it is a crime to separate as we need to be together to develop.
* Refugees have keys round their necks for the houses they were expelled from there must be a Right of return for the Palestinian people. The Jewish people have this so why can’t we.
* The replacement of 728 olive trees stolen by the Israelis; they were replaced by the soldiers but the settlers uprooted them again.
* We need a fair price for our goods so we can afford to take them to market.
He concluded: “Please go away and tell them we have to make a country, one state.”
Fouad Hanani, a community representative from Beit Fourik, speaking at a meeting last year, had a similar story: “Being a Palestinian Farmer is a special occupation. There is no financial support for farmers. We collect our olives but after that marketing is very difficult. We need to export to other markets.
The prices we get are less than we would get if we could export our produce. We need a good price to support the farmers. Farmers are not encouraged by the Occupation situation to do good work on their land.
The local Association Relief Committee for Palestinian Agriculture works with farmers to support and protect them from the Israeli settlements to develop and protect organic farming in order to establish a small community speciality.
There is less international support now. To get help from the European Union you have to sign a statement saying you are resisting terrorism. If you are linked to Hamas you lose points.
The Palestine Association that supports farming needs foreign solidarity. Our land near the Jordan Valley had good water but these supplies have been taken by Israelis.
If we pick olives behind the settlement zones, which is our land, we get shot and lose our land. The settlers can share in the olive harvest with Palestinians but it is Palestinian land the trees and they take half and if we resist they shoot.
The industrial zones could be one good way to develop co-operative Palestinian employment, modern farming, marketing and exporting.
The Jordan Valley Palestinian Farmers organisation is under Israeli control. There have been border closures between Palestine and Jordan. Israelis want it rich in water and fertile. Israelis prevent Palestinian marketing, exporting.”
“It is a good land; we want freedom to make it anything we want to do.”